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Bill allowing festival liquor sales and online orders from ABC stores passes Senate

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RALEIGH — The N.C. Senate has passed House Bill 890, an all-encompassing measure that could help distillers succeed in a crowded and burgeoning industry.

The bill passed the Senate on third reading, 35-7, Wednesday, Sept. 8, with a couple of technical amendments. The bill, in large part, aims to level the playing field for distillers, making rules more consistent with those governing breweries and wineries.

H.B. 890 now heads back to the House for concurrence. The move, among many things, would allow people to order online and pick products up from state Alcoholic Beverage Control stores, expand the size of growlers from two liters to four, loosen rules for tours in N.C. distilleries, and allow distillers to sell their products at festivals.

As it stands, distilleries can’t open if a local ABC is not open. This bill changes that, allowing distilleries to offer tours, tastings, and cocktails from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., although to think a distiller would hold such hours isn’t realistic. The bill would also establish a spirituous liquor council, basically a distillers’ version of the N.C. Wine and Grape Council.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, and Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union, have guided the measure, which evolved in committee as lawmakers incorporate several other bills into the omnibus package. Moffitt, who took the baton from former Rep. Chuck McGrady in leading reform of the state’s antiquated liquor-control system, is, along with Johnson, pushing through the legislature an amended and reworked House Bill 890.

“The House takes alcohol beverage control seriously,” Moffitt said a recent committee hearing, “and we appreciate that we’re one of 17 remaining control states … [T]his bill is responsible when it comes to maintaining that, but it’s always responsive [to] the changing dynamics and the disruptions we’re currently seeing in the field of alcohol in our state.”

Moffitt first introduced the original bill in May.

Paige Terryberry, fiscal policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation, has closely followed the measure, which, she has written, also would allow the sale of two alcoholic beverages per person at a college sporting event. Current law allows customers to buy one drink at a time.

“This bill takes a step to combat the ABC system’s blatant discrimination against distilleries,” Terryberry told Carolina Journal.


North Carolina distillers, as well as others in the alcohol industry, have fought the state’s archaic liquor control system for almost 90 years. Most recently, the ABC warehouse operator, LB&B Associates, has been the target of the ire. The shelves N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control stores on a recent Saturday at a Cary store were punctuated by holes where liquor should have been. Bar owners from around the state converge on social media are ubiquitous in their complaints about the shortages not seen in neighboring states.

Now the ABC is facing a new lawsuit.

Flying Dog, a national brewery based in Maryland, recently filed suit seeking an injunction that would stop the ABC from blocking the distribution of a certain beer because of an “offensive” logo, the ABC says. A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Sept. 9, Reason magazine reports.

“The offending label —like all Flying Dog beers —contains a distinctive cartoon image by illustrator Ralph Steadman, whose work with the Maryland-based brewery dates back to its roots in the gonzo-lands near Aspen, Colorado. It’s not clear exactly what the state’s regulators object to—though the naked, humanoid figure on the beer’s label does sport a small appendage between its legs,” Reason writes.

This is not the first time that North Carolina’s beer regulators tried to censor a product, Reason writes.

“WECT Channel 6, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, reported in 2019 that the state ABC had blacklisted about 230 beer and wine brands since 2002 for having labels or names that offended the board’s sensibilities. Among the ‘inappropriate’ products banned from the state are beers with names like ‘Daddy Needs His Juice,” and ‘Beergasm.'”